SAS and pilots' unions reach agreement, ending strike

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Scandinavian airline SAS and the unions representing their pilots said Tuesday that they had reached an agreement, ending a two-week strike that has cost the ailing airline between $9 and $12 million a day.

The agreement ending the strike after 15 days was confirmed by both the company and the unions after a negotiation session ran through Monday and into the early hours of Tuesday.

"I am pleased to report that we now have come to an agreement with all four pilot unions for SAS Scandinavia and the strike has ended," chief executive Anko van der Werff said in a statement.

"Finally, we can resume normal operations and fly our customers on their much longed-for summer holidays. I deeply regret that so many of our passengers have been impacted by this strike," he added.

A new agreement, covering the next five and half years, means that "flights operated by SAS Scandinavia will resume according to their regular traffic program as soon as possible", the company said.

"SAS pilots have taken responsibility to sign a new agreement with SAS and the strike will cease," the Swedish Air Line Pilots Association (SPF) said in a separate statement, adding that it had been "an extraordinary and very demanding negotiation."

Pilots have been striking since July 4, when nearly 1,000 of them walked off the job after talks broke down.

They were protesting against salary cuts demanded by management as part of a restructuring plan aimed at ensuring the survival of the company, and the firm's decision not to re-hire pilots laid off during the Covid-19 pandemic.

- Survival at stake -

Under the new deal, 450 pilots will be re-hired.

One day after the strike began SAS announced it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States, and van der Werff last week warned that the prolonged strike was putting the Chapter 11 process in jeopardy and, "ultimately, the survival of the company at stake".

When the stoppage was in its tenth day, SAS said it had already cost roughly 1 to 1.3 billion Swedish kronor ($94 million to $123 million, or 94 million to 123 million euros), with more than 2,500 flights cancelled.

The CEO also said the strike also had "a severe impact on our possibilities to succeed with SAS Forward", the cost-saving programme launched by the ailing company in February.

While the airline said it could meet its obligations in the near term it warned cash reserves "will erode very quickly in the face of a continuing pilot strike".

SAS, which employs nearly 7,000 people, mainly in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, is also seeking to raise about 9.5 billion kronor in fresh capital.

"We now get on with the important work of progressing our transformation plan SAS FORWARD and building a strong and competitive SAS for generations to come," van der Werff said Tuesday.

The summer is shaping up to be difficult overall for European airlines and airports, who are faced with staff shortages that are affecting air traffic.

After widespread job losses linked to Covid-19, airlines and airports are struggling to recruit new staff in many countries.

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